Powering the front wheels is a very interesting collection of parts. The front-wheel-drive unit is from a '70s Cadillac Eldorado and includes the frame, front suspension, spindles, brakes, and steering box. Each front axle was custom made. The Jeep transfer case is mounted behind the transmission, with a one-piece driveshaft running to the rear and a two-piece shaft running to the front differential. The front suspension uses coilover shocks. Powell used the power-steering unit from an Eldorado, but he didn't feel power brakes were necessary. The rear suspension is the stock setup, with stock-car heavy-duty shocks and a factory mono fiberglass spring.
With all this unusual hardware under the hood, the original firewall had to go. The 392 Hemi is 4 inches wider and slightly shorter than a big-block Chevy, plus the engine had to be set back 3 inches to make room for the front clip and radiator. Powell determined that it was just as easy (and cleaner) to make a new firewall out of 0.040-gauge steel than it would have been to notch the factory firewall to clear the magneto. A stock-car aluminum radiator keeps the Hemi cool; the power-steering cooler resides just ahead of it. Powell uses 33x12x15-inch BFGoodrich Off Road T/A tires on 11x15-inch Ion bead-lock wheels.
With the chassis and engine completed, the '81 body needed some adjustments. The front fenders had to be opened up to accommodate the oversized tires. L88 road-racing flares were grafted onto the front and rear fenders. A domed hood was needed to provide clearance for the Hemi's dual quads. The headlight buckets that are officially "too low" are from a Chrysler Imperial. Front bumper? What front bumper? The surf-fishing rack is good enough for warding off shopping carts and bicyclists.
The back end throws you a little. The original '81 rear bumper cover was shot, and besides, Powell liked the look of the '73-'79 cover. The only clues that this is an '81 body are the '80-'82-style front-fender vents. The rear taillights are LED units. Since this is a daily driver and beach machine, the roof rack is a permanent part of Powell's setup. When you live at the shore, you catch fish whenever you can. With eight coats of Imron black paint and no badges or graphics, the car looks surprisingly clean for such a heavily customized ride.
The interior provides more evidence of the car's daily driven nature. At first glance, the cabin looks fairly stock. But like any good dirt-track racer, Powell just had to have some tinwork in the interior. Flat racing gauges mounted on sheetmetal replace the stock speedometer and tachometer. The dash center section, meanwhile, features oil-pressure, water-temperature, amp-meter, and fuel-level gauges affixed to sheet steel. The console top is sheetmetal with toggle switches that control windshield squirters, wipers, supplementary fuel pump, main fan, power windows, heat, and A/C. The extra shifter to the right of the center console is an odd sight in a Corvette; it actuates the 4WD system.
Ocean City can be like the tropics in the summer and the arctic in the winter. Since Powell drives the car all year round, he installed a hot-rod HVAC unit under the dash. And since power comes from a 392 Hemi out of a '58 Chrysler Imperial, Powell dressed up the horn button with the Imperial bird emblem.
Powell's other passion is surf fishing, so he built his Corvette to be able to easily navigate the soft, fine, white sand of the Jersey Shore. From October to May vehicles are permitted on the beach. The sand along the Shore is so fine and deep that 4WD SUVs often get stuck. Powell regularly pulls cars and trucks to safety in the Vette. "You should see the look on their faces when I come up the beach in this thing," he says. "First, they hear me-it sounds like a big truck, then this black Corvette comes around the bend. The car is stout and can be run very hard."
Powell has owned his 4WD Corvette for more than 33 years and has more than 190,000 miles on it. His next project will involve making a special bracket to mount a winch on the rear crossmember. To access the winch, the license plate will flop down, just like an old gas filler-cap door.
So if you're out on the beach in Ocean City, and you get stuck in the sand, look for a high-riding black Corvette. After all, Powell is always looking for an excuse to kick up a little sand.